Karly Zucker received a startling piece of mail at her DeKalb home on Friday.
It was a campaign mailer from the Illinois Republican Party touting U.S. congressman Adam Kinzinger’s bona fides as a pro-life candidate. A softly lit black-and-white photo of a baby along with a head shot of the congressman covers most of the front of the card—along with a caption that reads “Adam Kinzinger—100% Pro-Life.”
When the 24-year-old social worker turned the card over, she was surprised to see an old picture of herself and several former coworkers smiling for a posed group picture with the congressman—the words “Pro-Life” and “Conservative Republican” printed in bold font surrounding it. The mailer makes it appear as if Zucker and the group made up mostly of teens and young women support Kinzinger or his anti-choice stance on abortion.
“It was a shock to see my face on an ad like that and find out by getting it mailed to me,” Zucker says. “No one ever contacted me or anyone else to get consent. I’m very angry.”
As it turns out, the photo was taken almost two years ago in the kitchen of the Voluntary Action Center of DeKalb County. Zucker and her colleagues were preparing food for a summer meals program when Kinzinger visited the nonprofit based in Sycamore, Illinois, to get better acquainted with the services that VAC provides, according to Ellen Rogers, the agency’s executive director.
Rogers issued a statement Monday saying that VAC was not informed and did not give consent to the picture’s use in a campaign ad: “At no time during the visit did representatives of VAC have any expectation of being portrayed as endorsing Mr. Kinzinger’s candidacy or position, nor did we give permission for the photo to be used in campaign literature. To do so would be contrary to VAC’s mission, which has nothing to do with partisan politics and a betrayal of the expectations of those who support and fund us.”
Kinzinger’s office refused comment. While the Illinois Republican Party didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday, on Tuesday afternoon, officials issued a statement apologizing for the use of the photo in an e-mailed statement:
The mailer was created by a third-party vendor, who we thought obtained the proper permission and consent to use the photo, and was distributed under our organization’s name with our approval. We did not intend to imply that Congressman Kinzinger’s tour of the Voluntary Action Center in 2016 was an endorsement of his candidacy, and for that, we are deeply sorry.
Zucker says she and some of her former coworkers pictured in the ad hadn’t received any responses to their calls or e-mails either.
“If you look at the picture, it’s like, look at all of these young women who support pro-life positions, but we were just making meals in a kitchen,” she said. “I do not support Kinzinger’s beliefs and practices and am frustrated that my face is a part of his campaign.”
Kinzinger is the incumbent in a heavily Republican 16th District that includes many of Chicago’s distant west and south exurbs. In the March 20 primary, he faces a challenger from the far right in James Marter of Oswego.
Both candidates filled out a survey from the Illinois Family Institute, a conservative Christian nonprofit whose stated mission is “upholding and re-affirming marriage, family, life and liberty in Illinois,” and say they want to defund Planned Parenthood, support the Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017 that would ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, and want to build Trump’s wall on the border of Mexico.
There are also four Democrats in the primary vying for the right to challenge Kinzinger in the general election: Amy Murri Briel, Sara Dady, Neill Mohammad, and Beth Vercolio-Osmund. v